Public hearings scheduled on proposed millage rate

Public hearings scheduled on proposed millage rate

As required by law, the Gwinnett County Board of Education (GCBOE) will hold three public hearings as part of its process for setting the millage. The first will be held on June 2, 2003, at 7 p.m. in the Board Room at the Lawrenceville East facility, at 723 Hi-Hope Road in Lawrenceville. The second will be at 11 :45 a.m. on June 12, and the third at 7 p.m. on June 12, both in the Board Room at Lawrenceville East.

The school system's Fiscal Year 2004 (FY04) budget was adopted May 15, 2003. In setting the millage rate to support the FY04 budget, the School Board is looking at increasing the Maintenance and Operating millage by .25 while lowering the Debt Service millage by the same amount, thereby maintaining the current total school millage rate of 20.30.

The budget provides resources-- both financial and human-- to help the school system accommodate its growing student population. GCPS' enrollment is expected to grow by approximately 6,000 students, bringing the total projected enrollment for next school year to more than 128,000. To accommodate student growth, the system will open eight additional schools at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year—one high school and seven elementary schools. Additionally, as the school system’s student body becomes more diverse, the cost to educate many students is going up to address their needs for extra instructional support and specialized services. This year’s budget also includes funds to implement state-required class size reductions in grades K-3.

Prior to the development of the FY2004 budget, the state indicated that difficult economic conditions would have a major impact on both the current FY2003 and the new FY 2004 budgets. It now appears that state revenue for the current budget will be reduced by approximately $12 million. For FY2004, the revenue shortfall may be as high as $15 million for Gwinnett County schools. These revenue shortfalls, combined with a $9.5 million increase in the required “Five Mill Buy-In” have shifted a greater burden for school funding to local property taxes. The “Five Mill Buy-In” is the part of the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula the state requires local school systems to support financially. Each system’s share varies according to the county’s property tax digest wealth.

In order to keep the local tax digest current, the Tax Assessor’s Office conducts annual property value updates (reassessments) on approximately one-third of the county’s real property. By state law, local taxing authorities, such as GCBOE, must either keep their tax collections revenue-neutral (by decreasing the millage rate to offset the gained taxes from the property value updates) or announce a tax increase (even though the actual millage rate isn’t increasing). The Board is considering adopting a combined millage rate of 20.30, which is the same overall millage rate as last year’s. This means that taxpayers whose property has not been reassessed will see little or no change in their school tax bill.

The total school millage rate is made up of two portions-- the maintenance and operations (M&O) millage and the debt service millage. Funds generated by the M&O millage pay for the day-to-day operations of the school system, including employee salaries, instructional materials, student transportation, and school utility costs. The debt service millage is used to pay down the School Board's long-term debt from bond referenda passed over the years to pay for school construction.

The increase in the M&O millage from 18.62 to 18.87 mills is offset by a corresponding decrease in the debt service rate from 1.68 mills to 1.43 mills. These offsetting rate changes result in a total millage rate of 20.30 mills, which is the same rate as the current year.

At the proposed 20.30 mills, the school tax rate remains lower than it was in the mid-to-late 1990s. In fiscal years 1995 and 1996, the total tax rate was 21.85 mills, and it stood at 20.75 mills for the next three years.

Citizens may address the Gwinnett County Board of Education at any of the three public hearings. A sign-up sheet will be available at the hearings for those wishing to speak. There is no need to sign up in advance of the meeting date.

A copy of the adopted budget is available for public review through the school system's Office of Budgets, Finance, and Accounting. For information, call 770-995-6360.